Jenevieve Chang: the freedom and ironies of dancing burlesque in China

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When the Chinese-Australian dancer moved to Shanghai to rediscover her roots, she instead found a city desperate to shed its past and embrace anything foreign

“Filth” is an acronym familiar mostly to expatriates: failed in London, try Hong Kong. “You can apply that to Shanghai as well,” says Jenevieve Chang, who spent several years in the Chinese metropolis in the late noughties. “They come to China and are suddenly superstars by virtue of being foreign.”

In her time in Shanghai’s expatriate playground, Chang, who worked there as a burlesque dancer, met film producers who had criminal records in their home countries and out-of-work Australian actors who landed starring roles in Chinese soap operas. Having a Caucasian face afforded you cultural capital: foreigners “were automatically offered four times a working wage than a Chinese-looking person”, she says.

Related: My two messed-up countries: an immigrant’s dilemma

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